Truck drivers reject government’s latest ‘useless’ agreement to end protests
The government faces a serious predicament as some truck drivers have rejected the latest agreement which brought last week’s protests to an end. The drivers called the agreement useless and argued that previous agreements have failed to stand.
Trucking industry conflict looks set to continue. On Monday, 25 October, aggrieved truck drivers blocked several main freeways and demanded an audience with authorities over the hiring of foreign truck drivers.
“It’s a useless agreement and it’s not the first. Ask them if the outcomes of those agreements concluded previously ever lasted. Ask minister Nxesi if those agreements lasted.’’ said Sifiso Nyathi, general secretary of the All Truck Drivers’ Foundation (ATDF).
The government stated earlier last week that an agreement was reached with the protesting drivers to end the protest while a long-term solution was sought.
Nyathi called the agreement a farce.
“We consider that agreement useless. They only just managed to convince some of our members but this thing was not signed by truck leaders,’’ Nyathi said.
On Wednesday, 27 October, transport minister Fikile Mbalula said the parties had agreed to commit to the following:
- Barring foreign nationals from driving a South African registered truck using a foreign Professional Driving Permit. This would come into effect pending the readiness of the relevant legislation.
- Enhance existing joint law enforcement operations between the SAPS, the Department of Employment & Labour, the Department of Home Affairs and the Road Traffic Management Corporation.
- Strengthening the process of validation and verification of immigration documents, work permits and foreign drivers’ licences.
- Operator cards will come into use and they will have a one-year validity period and non-compliance with relevant laws will result in the deregistration of the operator in question.
“This is as good as an empty agreement. There is no way that our member from Nquthu can be said to have signed the same document that was said to have also been signed by the country and ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. It’s all madness,’’ said Nyathi.
Nyathi said agreements have been entered into since 2018. He said the latest agreement was signed by people who do not have the interests of the majority of local truck drivers at heart.
The trucking industry has been marred by violent protests for years now. Even though the recent incidents of torching of trucks could not be directly linked to the conflict in the trucking sector, many people believe that is the case. Top of the drivers’ list of grievances is the employment of foreign truck drivers.
A series of accusations have been thrown at foreign truck drivers. The ATDF have accused foreign truck drivers of using fake permits and licences and driving without work permits. For the longest time, the ATDF has argued against hiring foreign truck drivers because they say driving is not a scarce skill as is the requirement for the hiring of foreign nationals.
The ATDF feels that the government’s reactionary interventions are no longer enough. They feel that there is no follow-up on agreements reached and that employers deliberately go against the agreements.
During a media briefing on 27 October, labour minister Thulas Nxesi begged employers to refrain from employing and exploiting foreign truck drivers. Nxesi said this amounted to economic sabotage. The government has pinned its hopes on a proposed new law, which transport minister Fikile Mbalula said will prevent foreign nationals from operating in the country without a South African driver’s license.
The violence in the industry has not been without casualties. Mazwi Fakudze, a truck driver from Eswatini said he fled after several dangerous confrontations with protesting drivers.
“I was turned away at roadblocks four or five times before I ran as I felt unsafe. I did not have a work permit but my boss told me that wasn’t his problem,’’ Fakudze said.
Fakudze told Daily Maverick on 26 October that he was on another truck-driving job in Eswatini despite the pro-democracy protests in that country. He said he was transporting essential goods. Fakudze said his previous job in South Africa far outweighed his current one in terms of pay.
On 27 October, SAPS Free State Spokesperson Motantsi Makhele confirmed that eight people were arrested after defying an order to remove their trucks from the road. He said they will be charged under the National Road Traffic Act and were expected to appear at the Harrismith magistrates’ court.
“We are leaving the trucks to the police now because they are getting violent and starting to shoot at us,” one driver said on Tuesday evening in a shared video from the scene of the blockade on the N3.
Nyathi said that ATDF had engaged trucking companies numerous times on the hiring of foreign truck drivers. He said the ATDF had also engaged other stakeholders, including the Road Freight Association, the National Employers’ Association of South Africa and the Truckers’ Association of South Africa.
Nyathi said 20 percent of foreign national drivers were welcome to operate within the borders of South Africa.
In March 2020, ATDF chairperson, Xolani Mthethwa, through his spokesperson Zweli Ndaba told the SA Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) inquiry that South African truck drivers deserve jobs ahead of foreign nationals. Read here.
Witness at the March 2020 SAHRC inquiry, Ngqabutho Mabona, representing the African Diaspora Foundation revealed some of the issues which often led to conflict. He said there was intense competition between South African and migrant drivers and foreign drivers’ willingness to work extended hours was also an issue. Mabona also said Zimbabwean truck drivers were not affiliated with unions.
He added, “The department of labour should clarify the issue of permits because it is a source of huge conflict in the truck industry.’’
During the same inquiry in March 2020, Busisiwe Goba who represented the Road Freight Association (RFA) told the SAHRC that immigration permits were at the centre of the conflict in the industry. She said the RFA did not have the scope to resolve disputes and depended on the National Bargaining Council.
A law enforcement officer told the same inquiry, “Like I said, it becomes a huge challenge for the NPA and the police because sometimes they just don’t want to be found because they know they are not compliant. They think that when they approach the police, they might get themselves into trouble.” Read here.
The RFA and CEO Gavin Kelly shared a statement regarding the latest roadblocks. The association called on the ministers of police and transport to use their powers to apply the law.
“The government has promised to resolve the matter of illegal foreigners (in whatever industry) for a number of years – but has not done what was promised,’’ read the statement.
“…the fact is that South African truck drivers are not hired. We don’t care about the number. We are saying foreign truck drivers should go. Ask minister Nxesi about the outcomes of previous task teams. They have said the same thing over and over again and we won’t take it anymore,’’ added Nyathi. DM